For over 30 years, Way to Grow has brought the community together to address the serious and prevalent gap in early childhood education in Minneapolis. In 1989, Greater Twin Cities United Way was one of three founding leaders of the organization, joining with a former city mayor and the CEO of Honeywell.
Today, Greater Twin Cities United Way funds Way to Grow’s work in early childhood education, as well as helps organizations broaden awareness of educational and social issues through advocacy work. Recently, Way to Grow also received an emergency second round grant from the Greater Twin Cities COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to address critical needs.
Way to Grow is known for their core early learning program, Great by Eight, which relies heavily on home visits for parent engagement and connection to resources. When COVID-19 hit, Way to Grow staff knew they’d have to connect with families however possible- and moved to virtual home visits via teleconference in mid-March.
“We really had to think quickly about what steps we were going to take to stay connected to our families,” said Program Manager Patricia Hayes. “Not all families have the same technologies- internet, phones, tablets, computers- so we had to come up with a process that worked with whatever they have available.”
Hayes is currently working with a team to support nearly 100 families, connecting them to critical resources, teaching activities, and answering questions. Parents tell her virtual visits are more important than ever right now, as they navigate educating their child(ren) at home.
“The families are so joyful- it gives the parents a break when I come on Zoom, WhatsApp, or FaceTime and the kids’ faces light up when they see me,” said Hayes. “We didn’t skip a beat with any of our activities.”
Way to Grow also operates a center-based preschool in North Minneapolis designed to complement home visits for families. Due to COVID, lessons have also become virtual with teachers creating daily videos and live-streaming stries and activities for students.
The grant from Greater Twin Cities COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund is being used for staffing, educational supplies, gift cards for food, laptops, and other resources so Way to Grow can continue to serve local families.
“Right now, with schools and programs closed, this is an isolating time,” said Hayes. “But some good has come out of it. Parents are getting more connected to their children’s education and building stronger relationships. At the end of the day, we’re in this together.”
Take Action: To help, donate to the Greater Twin Cities COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund at gtcuw.org/covid19 or by texting GTCUWCOVID19 to 51555.